- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 29, 2003

VIRGINIA BEACH — The youngest victim in last October’s sniper attacks yesterday testified in front of the man accused of orchestrating the shooting, describing the near-fatal incident and how it affected him.

“It brought me closer to God,” Iran Brown, 14, told jurors in the John Allen Muhammad sniper trial.

Iran, then an eighth-grader, was shot in the back at 8:09 a.m. on Oct. 7, 2002, in front of Benjamin Tasker Middle School in Bowie. His aunt, Tanya Brown, had just dropped him off at school.

“I opened the door [of the car] and walked out,” Iran said in a calm, clear voice. “I put my book bag down, and I got shot.”

“Where?” asked Prince William County prosecutor James A. Willett.

“Under my left chest,” said Iran, who did not look at the sniper suspect sitting at the defense table.

The teenager’s three minutes of testimony appeared to have touched several jurors, even though Iran did not break into tears or seem traumatized in offering his account. Mr. Muhammad’s defense attorneys — Jonathan D. Greenspun and Ira Shapiro — did not cross-examine him.

Iran was the seventh of the 13 persons shot during a three-week sniper spree last October. Ten of the shootings were fatal, but Iran’s was the only one that involved a child and occurred hours after Montgomery County Police Chief Charles A. Moose had told parents their children were safe.

Yesterday, some jurors closed their eyes and wiped away tears as prosecutors played a recorded 911 call Miss Brown placed just after Iran had been shot.

“Oh my goodness gracious. Iran hold it, hold it down,” she was heard saying to her nephew, apparently telling him to apply pressure to the wound as she was driving to the Bowie Health Care Center, less than two miles from his school.

Iran’s condition deteriorated rapidly in the car. Miss Brown honked her horn and yelled at other cars to let her through. “I gotta go past. Let me go past, please,” she said during the four-minute emergency call.

After the recording stopped, Mr. Willett asked Miss Brown if Iran had said anything to her in the car. She paused, struggling to control herself, and said, “He told me that he loved me.”

Prosecutors yesterday presented evidence from three shootings, including Iran’s. At first, it was not clear that the boy would testify because an attorney for his mother, Lisa Brown, had filed a motion late Tuesday seeking to bar his testimony.

Mr. Willett, Prince William assistant commonwealth’s attorney, said he met with Mrs. Brown late Tuesday to allay her concerns, but told her the decision was hers.

“I saw her this morning and said, ‘What are we going to do?’” Mr. Willett said. “She said, ‘Well, you know my son, he wants to testify.’

“He’s a pretty amazing kid,” Mr. Willett said.

After the shooting, Iran was airlifted to Children’s Hospital in the District, where doctors removed his spleen and parts of his stomach and pancreas. One of his lungs and his intestinal tract also were damaged.

Mr. Willett asked Iran how long he was in the hospital. “Like, for a month,” he said.

When Iran finished his testimony, his tearful mother grabbed his arm and hurried him out of the courtroom. Prince William Circuit Judge LeRoy F. Millette Jr. asked jurors if they needed a break, and they said they did not.

Mr. Muhammad is on trial in the Oct. 9, 2002, slaying of Dean Harold Meyers, 53, at a Manassas gas station.

He and fellow suspect Lee Boyd Malvo, 18, have been linked to the 13 random shootings in the Washington area last fall.

Mr. Muhammad has pleaded not guilty to two counts of capital murder — one under the state’s new antiterrorism statute and one for killing more than one person in three years.

Mr. Malvo goes on trial Nov. 10 in nearby Chesapeake in the Oct. 14, 2002, slaying of Linda Franklin, 47, at a Falls Church Home Depot.

Yesterday, Mr. Malvo’s defense attorneys, Craig S. Cooley and Michael S. Arif, filed a motion asking Fairfax Circuit Judge Jane Marum Roush to dismiss the capital murder indictment under Virginia’s new and untested antiterrorism statute.

If successful, they could prevent a large amount of the prosecution’s evidence from being presented until the sentencing phase of his trial if he is found guilty.

Judge Roush moved Mr. Malvo’s trial to Chesapeake over the summer because she said Northern Virginians were too traumatized by the sniper shootings to serve as fair and impartial jurors.

Mr. Malvo’s attorneys argued yesterday that Judge Roush’s ruling makes the capital murder charge under the terrorism statute invalid.

If no Northern Virginian could serve as a fair and impartial juror, the attorneys said, then neither could they serve as a qualified member of the grand jury that issued the indictment.

Before presenting evidence from Iran’s shooting yesterday, prosecutors finished showing evidence in the nonfatal shooting of Caroline Seawell, 43, in Fredericksburg, Va., on Oct. 4 last year. After Iran’s testimony, they moved to the fatal shooting of Kenneth Bridges, 53, at a Massaponax, Va., gas station Oct. 11 last year.

Several witnesses to each crime said they were aware of the sniper spree and were afraid for their lives before, during and after each shooting.

Christine Goodwin, a software engineer from Spotsylvania County, said she saw the sniper suspects’ blue Chevrolet Caprice parked at the gas station where Mr. Bridges was shot about two hours before the attack.

Mrs. Goodwin said she noticed the car because of her apprehension about the shootings.

“I was quite nervous about being [at the gas station]. … Everyone knew what was going on,” she said. “One of my thoughts was I was … pregnant, and a pregnant woman hadn’t been shot yet.”

“Everything about that car was wrong. … Something in me felt that that car was threatening to me,” Mrs. Goodwin said. “My first instinct was to call the police, and I didn’t.”

“Why not?” asked Paul B. Ebert, Prince William County commonwealth’s attorney.

“Because they were looking for a white van,” she said.

Prosecutors presented five witnesses who identified the Caprice near or at the shootings. Two said they told authorities right away, while the other three said they alerted police at a later date but before Mr. Muhammad’s Oct. 24, 2002, arrest.

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